For Immediate Release - May 27, 2013

AG Coakley, Senate President Murray Urge Congress to Pass Nuclear Waste Legislation

Bill Would Address Spent Fuel Storage, Risks to Public Safety and Environment; AG Also Joins Petition Insisting NRC Follow Court Order to Reevaluate Risks

BOSTON – Following years of effort to protect public safety and the environment from the risks oflong-term storage of spent fuel at nuclear facilities in or near Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley and Senate President Therese Murray are urging Congress to pass a bill that will provide for the removal of waste at civilian nuclear reactors and transfer it to a permanent offsite repository.

In a letter to members of Congress sent Friday, AG Coakley and Senate President Murray strongly expressed their support for the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 (NWAA). The bill is based on a recommended strategy by the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future that establishes a process for creating more appropriate storage facilities, and enables the federal government to fulfill its commitment to managing nuclear waste.

“This is a public safety issue, an environmental issue, and a taxpayer issue - and the federal government has an obligation to act,” AG Coakley said.  “This legislation is a major step toward facilitating a program to properly transfer and store spent nuclear fuel, with potential to ease the mounting burden on ratepayers with the cost of local, onsite storage. This has gone unaddressed by the federal government for too long, and we urge swift passage of this bill.”

“The storing of spent fuel on site continues to be a major concern,” said Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth). “This legislation will establish long-needed procedures to move this waste to a permanent offsite location and ensure the safety of our communities and the quality of our environment. We have been working toward a resolution on this issue for years and it is the responsibility of our Congress to act quickly on this matter.”

When reactors such as Pilgrim and Vermont Yankee were licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in the 1970s, regulators assumed that the spent fuel would be transferred offsite to a permanent disposal facility. More than 40 years later, a permanent repository still has not been constructed.  As a result, ratepayers have been forced to pay for the additional costs of updating and expanding wet storage pools to create more on-site storage.

The letter states that “spent fuel continues to be stockpiled ever more densely at individual plant sites, primarily in exposed spent fuel pools, thereby increasing the risk of core melt or catastrophic fire by terrorist attack, as acknowledged in a 2006 National Academy of Sciences Report, or by earthquake and other natural disasters, as occurred (core melt) at the Fukushima Daiichi site in Japan involving four nuclear power plants.”

Last week, AG Coakley also joined attorneys general from Vermont, Connecticut, and New York in filing a petition with the NRC insisting the agency expand its review of waste storage alternatives as mandated by a recent appeals court decision and federal law.  In June 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said NRC’s approach to managing nuclear waste did not adequately evaluate the risks of spent fuel storage.  The NRC decided to postpone the licensing of nuclear power plants in August until the agency further assesses the issue of long term storage for spent nuclear fuel.  The states' petition asserts that the NRC is required to consider additional alternatives to mitigate the risks of nuclear waste storage, including dry cask storage which is less vulnerable than the spent fuel pools substantially utilized at Pilgrim, Vermont Yankee and other facilities.

Since 2006, the AG’s Office has advocated for a permanent storage solution to spent fuel pools and urged the NRC to address the significant risks related to onsite storage of nuclear waste.  In recent years, the Commonwealth has also addressed risks related to onsite storage of nuclear waste in connection with the NRC’s relicensing proceedings for the Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.

In March 2011, AG Coakley and Senate President Murray sent a letter to Secretary Steven Chu of the U.S. Department of Energy and NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko demanding the federal government reexamines the safety implications of spent fuel storage at nuclear plants along with the NRC’s erroneous conclusion that the impacts from the storage of spent fuel are minimal.